Washington, D.C.— Carnegie trustee emeritus Frank Press, a National Medal of Science laureate and former president of the National Academy of Sciences, died January 29 at his home in Chapel Hill, N.C. He was 95. Press was active on the Carnegie board of trustees for 14 years and was the Cecil and Ida Green Senior Fellow at the institution’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism from 1993 to 1997.
A distinguished geophysicist whose contributions to plate tectonics revolutionized the field, Press authored more than 150 papers and co-authored two foundational Earth science textbooks. He also made tremendous contributions to science policy and helped shape the U.S. scientific enterprise for decades.
Press served on the President’s Science Advisory Committee during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, was appointed by President Richard Nixon to the National Science Board, and acted as President Jimmy Carter’s national science adviser for his entire term. In 1981, he was named president of the National Academy of Sciences, and remained in that position until 1993, when he accepted the Carnegie senior fellowship.
The breadth of his commitment to the scientific endeavor was noted in his National Medal of Science selection, which praised Press for his “contributions to the understanding of the deepest interior of the Earth and the mitigation of natural disasters, and his service in academia, as a government official, and at the National Academy of Sciences.”
He was also recognized with the Gold Medal of the Royal Astronomical Society, the Japan Prize, and the National Science Board’s Vannevar Bush award, among many other honors.
Press began his academic career at Columbia University, where he was an instructor in geophysics. He went on to be a professor and, eventually, a director at Caltech, before joining MIT as professor of geophysics and chair of its department of Earth and planetary sciences. He completed a Ph.D. in geophysics from Columbia University in 1946 and Bachelor of Science from City College of New York in 1944.
He is survived by his two children, two grandchildren, and two great grandchildren
Caption: Photo from the Max Hirshfeld Studio, courtesy of AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives